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Maui

Maui is composed of two volcanoes connected by the Central Valley, the island’s population hub and the site of several attractions. The West Maui Mountains (Kahalawai) are actually a single, extinct volcano that time has carved into steep canyons, accessible at just a few places, such as ‘Īao Valley. A road skirting the mountain’s southern flank leads to historic Lahaina and the coastal resorts of Kā‘anapali and Kapalua. Haleakalā, a dormant volcano capped by a huge crater, makes up the larger region of East Maui. Its outer slopes are covered with cattle ranches and fields of sugarcane and pineapple. The lush windward coast in the north features the plantation town of Pā’ia, Ho‘okipa Beach – a windsurfers’ mecca – and the little town of Hāna. The popular leeward coast enjoys a sunnier climate and calmer ocean.

POINTS OF INTEREST

LAHAINA

Stroll the streets of Lahaina, and you follow in the footsteps of scoundrels and kings. Until 1845, this small harbor town was the capital of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i. By the mid-19th century, during the peak of the whaling era, it had a reputation as a rowdy port-of-call. Missionaries sometimes struggled to maintain control over the town and the souls of its inhabitants. Today, it is one of the most popular visitor attractions on Maui. Front Street, lined with pioneer-style homes and storefronts, is evocative of Lahaina’s past. The Lahaina Restoration Foundation has restored a number of historic sites, and a wealth of history can be found within a small area.

KĀ‘ANAPALI

Nestled between a 3-mile (5-km) beach and the West Maui Mountains, Kā‘anapali is Maui’s largest resort. It includes six beachfront hotels, five condominiums, two golf courses, 35 tennis courts, and a large shopping center. Despite all the hotels, the resort maintains a sense of community by staging events like Na Mele O Maui (“the songs of Maui”), a celebration of Hawaiian culture, and the Maui Onion Festival, which honors the local crop. Through the ages, Kā‘anapali was a special place, the site of a heiau (temple), a taro patch, and a royal fishpond. In the early 20th century, it became a playground for Hawaiian royalty, complete with a horse-racing track. Free tours of sites throughout the resort are conducted by hotel employees each week. Pu‘u Keka‘a, better known as Black Rock, towers above long, white Kā‘anapali Beach and overlooks one of the best snorkeling spots in Maui. Two centuries ago, when Maui chief Kahekili sought to encourage his troops, he would leap into the ocean from Black Rock. This involved spiritual, not physical, danger since it was believed that the dead jumped into the spirit world from here. At the heart of Kā‘anapali is Whalers Village, an upscale shopping center with many stores and restaurants.

In addition, the Whalers Village Museum explores in unhappy detail the demise of the whale through the whaling trade. Displays include tools and weapons used for whaling, old photographs, models of whaling ships, and products made from the carcasses. Even more fascinating is the insight given into a young whaler’s life by letters, diaries, and official accounts. West Maui’s most unusual means of transportation is the Lahaina Kā‘anapali & Pacific Railroad, whose steam locomotives chug the 6 miles (10 km) between Lahaina and Kā‘anapali. Steam engines were used in Hawai‘i from the late 1800s until the 1950s to carry both sugarcane and plantation workers. Now the “Sugarcane Train” rides again, taking passengers along the same route as that used in earlier times. The scenic ride passes fields of cane and rises to cross the impressive Hahakea Trestle for a view of the ocean and the West Maui Mountains.

KAPALUA

Twenty minutes’ drive north of Kā‘anapali lies Kapalua, West Maui’s second planned resort, whose luxury rooms and 54 championship fairways are surrounded by a series of exquisite crescent bays and a pineapple plantation that carpets the lower slopes of the West Maui Mountains. Two of the bays, Honolua and Mokulē‘ia, have been designated marine life conservation districts, where divers and swimmers keep company with reef fish and sea turtles. The golf courses are Audubon Society-approved bird sanctuaries, and the environmentally sensitive lands above the resort are under the stewardship of the Nature Conservancy. The resort also hosts a PGA golf championship in January, with prize money in excess of $1 million, and a wine and food symposium that attracts vintners, chefs, and connoisseurs from around the world. The resort also offers a wedding package, complete with a cake and Hawaiian performers.

Built in 1929 as a plantation general store, Honolua Store looks much the same today as it did when it opened. Now the merchandise is more upscale and clothing here sports the Kapalua Resort butterfly logo. A deli counter serves breakfast and lunch.

NĀKĀLELE POINT

This is the most northerly point on Maui and the site of Hawai‘i’s first lighthouse. Vivid red-hued cliffs drop to the ocean and the trails along the bluffs offer terrific ocean views. When the surf is right here, seawater is forced as high as 100 ft (30 m) into the air through a hole in the shoreline lava tube. The blowhole is a short walk down the hill from the road, though you can see it from the top. Be careful if you approach it, as both the waves and the geysers are unpredictable.

KAHAKULOA VILLAGE AND HEAD

For nearly 1,500 years, families have inhabited Kahakuloa, growing taro on stone terraces and using aqueducts to irrigate their crops from mountain streams. One of the most isolated villages on Maui, it has no gas stations or restaurants, and the most prominent building is a lovely small church. East of the village, the monolithic 636-ft (194-m) Kahakuloa Head rises majestically from the water’s edge.

WAILUKU

Tucked into the foothills of the West Maui Mountains, Wailuku was in ancient times a royal center and the scene of many important battles. Today, it is a county seat and a thriving community. It has an intriguing mix of architectural styles, with several notable buildings along High Street. These include Wailuku Library, whose main structure was designed by noted Hawaiian architect C.W. Dickey, the old Wailuku Courthouse, the Territorial Building, and Wailuku Union Church. Also of interest is Market Street, with its antique stores, art galleries, cafés, boutiques, and the historic ‘Īao Theater.

KAHULUI

Kahului is the commercial and industrial center of Maui. The island’s biggest airport and principal shipping harbor are located here. It also offers beaches, large parks, historic sites, and cultural attractions. The Alexander and Baldwin Sugar Museum is located 2 miles (5km) west of Kahului. Across from the Pu‘unēnē Sugar Mill, built in 1902 by Alexander and Baldwin, the old supervisor’s residence has been transformed into a museum about the industry that dominated Hawai‘i’s economy for more than half a century. It features historical exhibits, narrated displays, and a model of a cane-crushing mill. The Kanaha Pond State Wildlife Sanctuary, once a royal fish pond, is home to many migratory and native birds. These include two endangered species, the slender, pink-legged Hawaiian stilt (ae‘o) and the gray-black, ducklike Hawaiian coot (‘alae keoke‘o). To access the walking trails, visitors must obtain a permit from the State Department of Natural Resources. There is an observation pavilion on the ocean side of Hāna Highway.

‘ĪAO VALLEY

The ‘Īao Valley Road leads into the West Maui Mountains, winding beneath sheer cliffs as it follows a river hidden by trees. As the road begins to climb, the air becomes cooler, and traffic noise is replaced by the green of ‘Īao Valley, one of Maui’s most sacred and historic sites. At one time, the bones of kings were buried here. In this valley in 1790, equipped with Western knowledge and weaponry, the forces of Kamehameha the Great trapped and annihilated those of Kahekili, the last independent chief of the island.

In a beautiful setting, about 2 miles (3 km) up the valley from Wailuku, you will find Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens, a lovely county park with shaded picnic tables used by local families. Scattered about the park are smaller-than-life models showing the architectural styles brought to the islands by various ethnic and racial groups. A thatched Hawaiian hale (house), a Portuguese dwelling with its outdoor oven, a simple Japanese home, and a prim New England cottage are some of the structures that reflect Hawai‘i’s people – immigrants who come from the four corners of the world.

Adjacent to the gardens, the Hawai‘i Nature Center offers hikes and other outdoor activities for young and old. “Mud Scientists,” “Tremendous Trees,” and “Slugfest” are a few of the hands-on educational offerings for budding scientists as young as three years old. In 1997, the center opened a new building called the ‘Īao Valley Interactive Science Arcade, an innovative museum featuring games and displays that serve to educate visitors about the plant and animal life that has reached these islands.

MĀ’ALAEA

Nestled along the shoreline off Honoapi‘ilani Highway, Mā‘alaea has oceanfront condominiums, several restaurants, a shopping plaza, a few attractions, and a small boat harbor. Many snorkel and fishing boat charters depart from Mā‘alaea Harbor and facilities here include an activity booth and a US Coast Guard station. Mā‘alaea Bay is a favorite of surfers and windsurfers. In the winter, humpback whales frequent the bay and can easily be seen from shore. On the seafront, Maui Ocean Center, a huge aquarium and marine park, has more than 60 indoor and outdoor displays, where it is possible to see marine life up close without getting wet. Exhibits include the Living Reef, Turtle Lagoon, and the Open Ocean. The Discovery Pool is an interactive exhibit, where visitors can handle creatures that inhabit tide pools, like sea stars and sea cucumbers. For a thrilling experience, try The Underwater Journey, on which visitors walk through a transparent tunnel set inside a 750,000-gallon tank that is teeming with colorful fish, sharks, rays, and other marine life.

KĪHEI

One of the most populated areas on Maui, Kīhei lies on the island’s sunny southern shore and boasts a vast stretch of sparkling white sand beaches. Some of the island’s best beaches for swimming, windsurfing, and snorkeling are found here, including Kalama Park and Kama‘ole I, II, and III Parks. Just south of Kama‘ole III, there is a boat ramp from which many ocean activity charters depart. The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary encompasses most of the ocean around Hawai‘i, but its administrative center is located in Kīhei, at the edge of an ancient fishpond. Here there is an observation deck with a large viewing scope, allowing visitors to enjoy whale watching at a safe and non-intrusive distance. Covering 1.1 sq miles (2.8 sq km) of some of the last remaining natural wetland habitat in Hawai‘i, Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge has wet and dry periods. It is home to more than 30 species of birds. Neighboring it is Kealia Beach, a nesting ground for the endangered hawksbill turtle.

MĀKENA

At Mākena, Big Beach is separated from Little Beach by a rock outcropping that you have to climb over. When conditions are right, both beaches are good spots for body surfing, boogie boarding, snorkeling, swimming, and sunbathing. Big Beach is the nickname of the long, white-sand, crescent-shaped Oneloa Beach, which lies to the south of Wailea Marriott Resort. Facilities in the area are few so arrive prepared. Unofficially, Little Beach is known as a “clothing optional” beach. The white, steepled Keawala‘i Church stands beside the ocean in a tranquil, palm-tree-fringed cove. The spectacular setting of this quaint church makes it a popular venue for weddings. Built in 1855, it has had a continuous and active congregation, which has lovingly renovated the building over the years. The church welcomes visitors but asks that they remove their shoes before entering. Sunday services are held in the Hawaiian language.

AHIHI-KINA‘U NATURAL AREA RESERVE

About a mile and a half south of the Makena Beach and Golf Resort, this preserve is unique in Hawai‘i in that it protects both land and sea environments. To that end, some areas are closed to the public. The section on dry land is a dramatic lava landscape created by the last eruption of Haleakalā  in 1790. Underwater, fantastic snorkeling and diving are on offer. Because this area is protected, it is illegal to damage or remove any of the natural habitat.

LA PÉROUSE BAY

South of Mākena, this bay was named for the first European to set foot on Maui, French explorer Jean Francis Gallup Comte de La Pérouse, who arrived in 1786. There is a monument marking the spot on the mauka (mountain) side of the road. When La Pérouse returned in 1790, he found that the communities he had visited before were abandoned and covered with lava. Today the bay is known for its fantastic kayaking, snorkeling, and diving.

KAHO‘OLAWE

A dry, uninhabited island less than 11 miles (18 km) long, Kaho‘olawe has at different times been host to exiled convicts, sheep and goats who eroded the soil, and the United States Navy, who used it for target practice. In the 1970s, native Hawaiians began a campaign to regain the island, and in 1994 the US ceded it to the state of Hawai‘i. Hundreds of ancient sites have been found here, and although access is strictly limited, Hawaiians have begun to reclaim their heritage.

MOLOKINI

An almost completely submerged volcano, Molokini rises just 160 ft (50 m) above the sea. The exposed rim is rocky and barren, but below the surface, this marine reserve teems with pelagic (open-sea) fish that are comfortable with people, thanks to the many boats that anchor here for snorkeling and scuba diving.

‘ULUPALAKUA RANCH AND TEDESCHI WINERY

High up on the slopes of Haleakalā, where this ranch and winery are located, the air is cooler and the scenery panoramic. In the 19th century, this area was known as Rose Ranch because of the many rose gardens planted here by the then owner’s wife. Some of the trees that she planted still stand shading the grounds today. What is today known as ‘Ulupalakua Ranch is a working ranch and the site of Maui’s only winery, at the Tedeschi Vineyards. The winery’s tasting room is located in King’s Cottage, which was built in 1874 for King David Kalakaua, a frequent visitor. Here you can sample and purchase the fruits of the winery’s labor. Two free tours of the winery are offered daily.

UPCOUNTRY FARMS

Upcountry is the term used to describe the verdant western slopes of Haleakalā. At these higher elevations, the views are breathtaking, the scenery is magnificent, the cool and misty air is invigorating, and the volcanic soil is fertile. Here you will find most of the island’s farms and ranches, where an intriguing array of flowers, vegetables, fruits, and livestock flourish. Many welcome visitors to enjoy their beauty and their bounty. O‘o Farm is run by the owners of two leading Lahaina restaurants, Pacific’O and I’o, who are the first in the state to own and operate a farm for the sole purpose of supplying their restaurants. Their farm features orchards where citrus fruits, tropical fruits, stone fruits, and apples are cultivated, as well as extensive herb and vegetable gardens. Visitors may tour the farm with a culinary specialist, handpicking items for a one-of-a-kind lunch, with a choice of fresh fish or vegetarian fare. You are welcome to bring wine to enjoy with your lunch. Fragrant and pastoral, Ali‘i Kula Lavender farm cultivates 45 different varieties of lavender. Stroll through the gardens or take a 90-minute guided tour that offers information about the history, health benefits, and culinary attributes of lavender. In addition to the walking tour, a visit to this farm can include lunch and various seasonal tours, some with wreath-making and others with cooking demonstrations. So named because there are surfboards in the pens and the goats stand on them, the Surfing Goat Dairy produces more than 20 different varieties of goat’s cheese. The dairy offers daily tours that include information about cheese making and cheese sampling. During the “Evening Chores and Milking” tour, you can help bring in the herd, feed them, and even try out your skills at hand milking the goats.

MAKAWAO

The false-front wooden buildings, the annual rodeo, and the cattle ranches that surround the town give Makawao a distinctly Old West flavor. It has been a cowboy town since the mid-19th century, but gradually the paniolo have made way for an “alternative” culture catering to a growing artistic community. Trendy art galleries showing local creations cluster around the crossroads at the town center. Glassblowing can be seen throughout the day at Hot Island Glass on Baldwin Avenue. Alternatively, you can sit in a café to watch town life go by, or stroll into Komoda Store and Bakery (also on Baldwin Avenue) for pastries and old-Maui ambiance.

PĀ‘IA

Today, Pā‘ia is a bohemian beach town with offbeat stores, an international surfing reputation, and good, rustic restaurants. Back in the 1930s, though, this little sugar town was the island’s biggest population center. No longer in use, the sugar mill that once supported the town is located on Highway 390, a mile (1.5 km) southeast of Pā‘ia’s only traffic light. The Mantokuji Buddhist Temple, just east of town beside Hāna Highway (Hwy 36), speaks eloquently of those who came to work the plantations. Environs To the west of town, HA Baldwin Beach County Park is good for bodysurfing and popular with locals. Ten minutes east of Pā‘ia on Hāna Highway is the world-famous windsurfing spot, Ho‘okipa Beach County Park. Unique conditions allow windsurfers to perform spectacular aerial maneuvers over the breaking waves. This is not a swimming beach, but with five surf breaks, it is certainly a spectators’ spot, especially in the afternoon when the wind blows strongly.

KE‘ANAE PENINSULA AND WAILUA VALLEY

Between Mile Markers 16 and 20, drivers cross an area deemed by the state a “cultural landscape.” The star attraction, the ancient lo‘i or taro ponds, can be seen from overlooks at mile markers 17 and 19. It is said that the Ke‘anae Peninsula was just lava rock until the local chief, jealous of his neighbors in Wailua, sent people to bring soil down from the hills. Wailua’s Coral Miracle Church, site of Our Lady of Fatima shrine, was built in 1860 with sea-coral. A freak storm deposited the coral on a nearby beach. The locals gathered what they needed to build the church; later, another storm swept the unused coral back out to sea.

HĀNA

Often called Hawai‘i’s most Hawaiian town, Hāna continues to lag lazily behind the tempo of modernity, and everyone here seems to think that this is just fine. Its perfect round bay and dreamy climate have made Hāna a prized settlement since time immemorial. Kings of Maui and Hawai‘i Island fought to possess the district, using Ka‘uiki Head, the large cinder cone on the right flank of the bay, as a natural fortification. A cave at the base of the cone was the birthplace of Queen Ka‘ahumanu. Tiny Hāna Cultural Center and Museum presents a kauhale (residential compound) in the precontact style once unique to this area. Exhibited artifacts give a sense of local history. Wānanalua Church, beside Hāna Highway (Hwy 360), was constructed from blocks of coral in 1838. Missionaries built it on top of an existing heiau (temple), thus symbolizing the triumph of Christianity over paganism. Sugar cultivation took root in Hāna in the 1860s and continued until 1944, when San Francisco capitalist Paul Fagan closed the mill and converted the area to cattle. Three years later, he built Hotel Hāna-Maui on a plot once used by early missionaries. Today, Fagan’s influence is still felt, and his large memorial cross looms on the hillside above the bay.

KĪPAHULU

Reached on the winding Hāna Highway, in the Kīpahulu District of Haleakalā National Park, is ‘Ohe‘o Gulch, popularly but incorrectly called The Seven Sacred Pools. In Hawai‘i, all water is considered sacred and there are many more than seven pools here, all formed by the waterfalls rushing seaward from the top of Haleakalā. About 10 miles (16 km) past Hāna, you will drive over a small concrete bridge that spans the pools. A few curves after the bridge is a parking lot on your left, which is the site of the ranger station. An admission fee ($10 per car) is charged. There are restrooms, but no food, gas, or drinking water are available. This lush, tropical area is great for hiking, swimming, and camping. The pools below the road are easy to reach along the short Kuloa Point Loop Trail that begins in the parking area.

More adventurous visitors can search out the upper pools along the Waimoku Falls Trail. This trail begins across the road from the ranger station, climbs through a meadow and winds along the stream through the rainforest. After ascending for a while, it passes the magnificent Falls at Makahiku, a 181-ft (55-m) waterfall, where you can stop for a breathtaking view down the cascading falls and pools to the ocean. Continuing for another 2 miles (3 km), beyond a fantastic bamboo forest, the trail ends at a shallow pool at the base of Waimoku Falls, which spill 400 ft (120 m) over the high cliff ledge. It is possible to swim or wade in the refreshing water here.

Always be alert to the weather as flash flooding is common throughout this area. A mile (1.5 km) past ‘Ohe‘o Gulch, on the ocean side of the road, stands the small, white Palapala Ho‘omau Congregational Church, built in 1857. It is the final resting place of the famed American aviator Charles Lindbergh (1902–74), the first person to fly a plane solo across the Atlantic. He spent his last days in peaceful Hāna. Next to the cemetery is Kīpahulu Lighthouse Point County Park, perched on the edge of the cliff. There are shaded picnic tables here.

KAUPO

From ‘Ohe‘o Gulch, the Hāna Highway winds in and out of valleys with steep rock walls and on blind curves hugging the ocean cliffs, to arrive at Kaupo. Kaupo means “Landing at Night” and could refer to travelers from other islands, who arrived by canoe at night. Established in the mid-1920s, the quaint Kaupo Store was the last of the Soon family stores. These were set up by the son of an indentured Chinese laborer, Nick Soon, who also built the first electric generator in the area. The store sells cold beverages and local snacks like marlin jerky and shaved ice. Opening times are erratic but if it is closed, stop and peruse the bulletin board by the door, which is plastered with business cards from all over the world. Before the first Europeans arrived on Maui, thousands of people lived in the villages along this coast, sustaining themselves through farming the fertile land and fishing in the bountiful sea. The missionary churches that still stand here, such as St. Joseph’s Church (built in 1862), give a clue to the large Hawaiian population they once served. Built in 1859, Huialoha Church fell into disrepair during the last century. However, volunteers worked to renovate the building and it was reopened in 1978, adding extra meaning to its name Huialoha, “meeting of compassion”. From Kaupo, the landscape turns into dry desert as this area is in the lee of Haleakalā and gets little rain. The impressive Kaupo Gap is visible from the road. It was created when an erupting Haleakalā blew away a large section of the mountain’s rim. Eventually, the highway leads to the verdant uplands of ‘Ulupalakua, offering spectacular scenery and serenity.

HALEAKALĀ NATIONAL PARK

The land mass of East Maui is really the top of an enormous shield volcano that begins more than 3 miles (5 km) below sea level. Haleakalā (“House of the Sun”) is thought to have last erupted some 200 years ago and is still considered to be active, although not currently erupting. Its summit depression is 7.5 miles (12 km) long and 2.5 miles (4 km) wide, formed by erosional forces acting on volcanic rock. This natural wonder is preserved as part of the national park, which includes Kīpahulu valley and ‘Ohe‘o Gulch on the coast (see p130). In under two hours, motorists drive from sea level to the 10,023-ft (3,055-m) summit, rising from one ecosystem to the next while temperature and oxygen levels fall dramatically.